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88 U.S.

162
22 L.Ed. 627
21 Wall. 162

MINOR
v.
HAPPERSETT.
October Term, 1874

ERROR to the Supreme Court of Missouri; the case being thus:


The fourteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States, in its
first section, thus ordains:1
'All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the
jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States, and of the State
wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law, which shall
abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States. Nor
shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due
process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction, the equal
protection of the laws.'
And the constitution of the State of Missouri 2 thus ordains:
'Every male citizen of the United States shall be entitled to vote.'
Under a statute of the State all persons wishing to vote at any election,
must previously have been registered in the manner pointed out by the
statute, this being a condition precedent to the exercise of the elective
franchise.
In this state of things, on the 15th of October, 1872 (one of the days fixed
by law for the registration of voters), Mrs. Virginia Minor, a native born,
free, white citizen of the United States, and of the State of Missouri, over
the age of twenty-one years, wishing to vote for electors for President and
Vice-President of the United States, and for a representative in Congress,
and for other officers, at the general election held in November, 1872,
applied to one Happersett, the registrar of voters, to register her as a lawful
voter, which he refused to do, assigning for cause that she was not a 'male
citizen of the United States,' but a woman. She thereupon sued him in one

of the inferior State courts of Missouri, for wilfully refusing to place her
name upon the list of registered voters, by which refusal she was deprived
of her right to vote.
The registrar demurred, and the court in which the suit was brought
sustained the demurrer, and gave judgment in his favor; a judgment which
the Supreme Court affirmed. Mrs. Minor now brought the case here on
error.
Mr. Francis Minor (with whom were Messrs. J. M. Krum and J. B.
Henderson), for the plaintiff in error, went into an elaborate argument,
partially based on what he deemed true political views, and partially
resting on legal and constitutional grounds. These last seemed to be thus
resolvable:
1st. As a citizen of the United States, the plaintiff was entitled to any and
all the 'privileges and immunities' that belong to such position however
defined; and as are held, exercised, and enjoyed by other citizens of the
United States.
2d. The elective franchise is a 'privilege' of citizenship, in the highest
sense of the word. It is the privilege preservative of all rights and
privileges; and especially of the right of the citizen to participate in his or
her government.
3d. The denial or abridgment of this privilege, if it exist at all, must be
sought only in the fundamental charter of government,the Constitution
of the United States. If not found there, no inferior power or jurisdiction
can legally claim the right to exercise it.
4th. But the Constitution of the United States, so far from recognizing or
permitting any denial or abridgment of the privileges of its citizens,
expressly declares that 'no State shall make or enforce any law which shall
abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.'
5th. If follows that the provisions of the Missouri constitution and registry
law before recited, are in conflict with and must yield to the paramount
authority of the Constitution of the United States.
No opposing counsel.
The CHIEF JUSTICE delivered the opinion of the court.

The question is presented in this case, whether, since the adoption of the
fourteenth amendment, a woman, who is a citizen of the United States and of
the State of Missouri, is a voter in that State, notwithstanding the provision of
the constitution and laws of the State, which confine the right of suffrage to
men alone. We might, perhaps, decide the case upon other grounds, but this
question is fairly made. From the opinion we find that it was the only one
decided in the court below, and it is the only one which has been argued here.
The case was undoubtedly brought to this court for the sole purpose of having
that question decided by us, and in view of the evident propriety there is of
having it settled, so far as it can be by such a decision, we have concluded to
waive all other considerations and proceed at once to its determination.

It is contended that the provisions of the constitution and laws of the State of
Missouri which confine the right of suffrage and registration therefor to men,
are in violation of the Constitution of the United States, and therefore void. The
argument is, that as a woman, born or naturalized in the United States and
subject to the jurisdiction thereof, is a citizen of the United States and of the
State in which she resides, she has the right of suffrage as one of the privileges
and immunities of her citizenship, which the State cannot by its laws or
constitution abridge.

There is no doubt that women may be citizens. They are persons, and by the
fourteenth amendment 'all persons born or naturalized in the United States and
subject to the jurisdiction thereof' are expressly declared to be 'citizens of the
United States and of the State wherein they reside.' But, in our opinion, it did
not need this amendment to give them that position. Before its adoption the
Constitution of the United States did not in terms prescribe who should be
citizens of the United States or of the several States, yet there were necessarily
such citizens without such provision. There cannot be a nation without a
people. The very idea of a political community, such as a nation is, implies an
association of persons for the promotion of their general welfare. Each one of
the persons associated becomes a member of the nation formed by the
association. He owes it allegiance and is entitled to its protection. Allegiance
and protection are, in this connection, reciprocal obligations. The one is a
compensation for the other; allegiance for protection and protection for
allegiance.

For convenience it has been found necessary to give a name to this


membership. The object is to designate by a title the person and the relation he
bears to the nation. For this purpose the words 'subject,' 'inhabitant,' and
'citizen' have been used, and the choice between them is sometimes made to
depend upon the form of the government. Citizen is now more commonly

employed, however, and as it has been considered better suited to the


description of one living under a republican government, it was adopted by
nearly all of the States upon their separation from Great Britain, and was
afterwards adopted in the Articles of Confederation and in the Constitution of
the United States. When used in this sense it is understood as conveying the
idea of membership of a nation, and nothing more.
5

To determine, then, who were citizens of the United States before the adoption
of the amendment it is necessary to ascertain what persons originally associated
themselves together to form the nation, and what were afterwards admitted to
membership.

Looking at the Constitution itself we find that it was ordained and established
by 'the people of the United States,'3 and then going further back, we find that
these were the people of the several States that had before dissolved the
political bands which connected them with Great Britain, and assumed a
separate and equal station among the powers of the earth,4 and that had by
Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, in which they took the name of
'the United States of America,' entered into a firm league of friendship with
each other for their common defence, the security of their liberties and their
mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other against all
force offered to or attack made upon them, or any of them, on account of
religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretence whatever.5

Whoever, then, was one of the people of either of these States when the
Constitution of the United States was adopted, became ipso facto a citizena
member of the nation created by its adoption. He was one of the persons
associating together to form the nation, and was, consequently, one of its
original citizens. As to this there has never been a doubt. Disputes have arisen
as to whether or not certain persons or certain classes of persons were part of
the people at the time, but never as to their citizenship if they were.

Additions might always be made to the citizenship of the United States in two
ways: first, by birth, and second, by naturalization. This is apparent from the
Constitution itself, for it provides6 that 'no person except a natural-born citizen,
or a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of the Constitution,
shall be eligible to the office of President,'7 and that Congress shall have power
'to establish a uniform rule of naturalization.' Thus new citizens may be born or
they may be created by naturalization.

The Constitution does not, in words, say who shall be natural-born citizens.

Resort must be had elsewhere to ascertain that. At common-law, with the


nomenclature of which the framers of the Constitution were familiar, it was
never doubted that all children born in a country of parents who were its
citizens became themselves, upon their birth, citizens also. These were natives,
or natural-born citizens, as distinguished from aliens or foreigners. Some
authorities go further and include as citizens children born within the
jurisdiction without reference to the citizenship of their parents. As to this class
there have been doubts, but never as to the first. For the purposes of this case it
is not necessary to solve these doubts. It is sufficient for everything we have
now to consider that all children born of citizen parents within the jurisdiction
are themselves citizens. The words 'all children' are certainly as comprehensive,
when used in this connection, as 'all persons,' and if females are included in the
last they must be in the first. That they are included in the last is not denied. In
fact the whole argument of the plaintiffs proceeds upon that idea.
10

Under the power to adopt a uniform system of naturalization Congress, as early


as 1790, provided 'that any alien, being a free white person,' might be admitted
as a citizen of the United States, and that the children of such persons so
naturalized, dwelling within the United States, being under twenty-one years of
age at the time of such naturalization, should also be considered citizens of the
United States, and that the children of citizens of the United States that might
be born beyond the sea, or out of the limits of the United States, should be
considered as natural-born citizens.8 These provisions thus enacted have, in
substance, been retained in all the naturalization laws adopted since. In 1855,
however, the last provision was somewhat extended, and all persons theretofore
born or thereafter to be born out of the limits of the jurisdiction of the United
States, whose fathers were, or should be at the time of their birth, citizens of the
United States, were declared to be citizens also.9

11

As early as 1804 it was enacted by Congress that when any alien who had
declared his intention to become a citizen in the manner provided by law died
before he was actually naturalized, his widow and children should be
considered as citizens of the United States, and entitled to all rights and
privileges as such upon taking the necessary oath;10 and in 1855 it was further
provided that any woman who might lawfully be naturalized under the existing
laws, married, or who should be married to a citizen of the United States,
should be deemed and taken to be a citizen.11

12

From this it is apparent that from the commencement of the legislation upon
this subject alien women and alien minors could be made citizens by
naturalization, and we think it will not be contended that this would have been
done if it had not been supposed that native women and native minors were

already citizens by birth.


13

But if more is necessary to show that women have always been considered as
citizens the same as men, abundant proof is to be found in the legislative and
judicial history of the country. Thus, by the Constitution, the judicial power of
the United States is made to extend to controversies between citizens of
different States. Under this it has been uniformly held that the citizenship
necessary to give the courts of the United States jurisdiction of a cause must be
affirmatively shown on the record. Its existence as a fact may be put in issue
and tried. If found not to exist the case must be dismissed. Notwithstanding this
the records of the courts are full of cases in which the jurisdiction depends upon
the citizenship of women, and not one can be found, we think, in which
objection was made on that account. Certainly none can be found in which it
has been held that women could not sue or be sued in the courts of the United
States. Again, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, in many of the
States (and in some probably now) aliens could not inherit or transmit
inheritance. There are a multitude of cases to be found in which the question
has been presented whether a woman was or was not an alien, and as such
capable or incapable of inheritance, but in no one has it been insisted that she
was not a citizen because she was a woman. On the contrary, her right to
citizenship has been in all cases assumed. The only question has been whether,
in the particular case under consideration, she had availed herself of the right.

14

In the legislative department of the government similar proof will be found.


Thus, in the pre-emption laws,12 a widow, 'being a citizen of the United States,'
is allowed to make settlement on the public lands and purchase upon the terms
specified, and women, 'being citizens of the United States,' are permitted to
avail themselves of the benefit of the homestead law.13

15

Other proof of like character might be found, but certainly more cannot be
necessary to establish the fact that sex has never been made one of the elements
of citizenship in the United States. In this respect men have never had an
advantage over women. The same laws precisely apply to both. The fourteenth
amendment did not affect the citizenship of women any more than it did of
men. In this particular, therefore, the rights of Mrs. Minor do not depend upon
the amendment. She has always been a citizen from her birth, and entitled to all
the privileges and immunities of citizenship. The amendment prohibited the
State, of which she is a citizen, from abridging any of her privileges and
immunities as a citizen of the United States; but it did not confer citizenship on
her. That she had before its adoption.

16

If the right of suffrage is one of the necessary privileges of a citizen of the

United States, then the constitution and laws of Missouri confining it to men
are in violation of the Constitution of the United States, as amended, and
consequently void. The direct question is, therefore, presented whether all
citizens are necessarily voters.
17

The Constitution does not define the privileges and immunities of citizens. For
that definition we must look elsewhere. In this case we need not determine what
they are, but only whether suffrage is necessarily one of them.

18

It certainly is nowhere made so in express terms. The United States has no


voters in the States of its own creation. The elective officers of the United
States are all elected directly or indirectly by State voters. The members of the
House of Representatives are to be chosen by the people of the States, and the
electors in each State must have the qualifications requisite for electors of the
most numerous branch of the State legislature.14 Senators are to be chosen by
the legislatures of the States, and necessarily the members of the legislature
required to make the choice are elected by the voters of the State.15 Each State
must appoint in such manner, as the legislature thereof may direct, the electors
to elect the President and Vice-President.16 The times, places, and manner of
holding elections for Senators and Representatives are to be prescribed in each
State by the legislature thereof; but Congress may at any time, by law, make or
alter such regulations, except as to the place of choosing Senators.17 It is not
necessary to inquire whether this power of supervision thus given to Congress
is sufficient to authorize any interference with the State laws prescribing the
qualifications of voters, for no such interference has ever been attempted. The
power of the State in this particular is certainly supreme until Congress acts.

19

The amendment did not add to the privileges and immunities of a citizen. It
simply furnished an additional guaranty for the protection of such as he already
had. No new voters were necessarily made by it. Indirectly it may have had that
effect, because it may have increased the number of citizens entitled to suffrage
under the constitution and laws of the States, but it operates for this purpose, if
at all, through the States and the State laws, and not directly upon the citizen.

20

It is clear, therefore, we think, that the Constitution has not added the right of
suffrage to the privileges and immunities of citizenship as they existed at the
time it was adopted. This makes it proper to inquire whether suffrage was
coextensive with the citizenship of the States at the time of its adoption. If it
was, then it may with force be argued that suffrage was one of the rights which
belonged to citizenship, and in the enjoyment of which every citizen must be
protected. But if it was not, the contrary may with propriety be assumed.

21

When the Federal Constitution was adopted, all the States, with the exception
of Rhode Island and Connecticut, had constitutions of their own. These two
continued to act under their charters from the Crown. Upon an examination of
those constitutions we find that in no State were all citizens permitted to vote.
Each State determined for itself who should have that power. Thus, in New
Hampshire, 'every male inhabitant of each town and parish with town
privileges, and places unincorporated in the State, of twenty-one years of age
and upwards, excepting paupers and persons excused from paying taxes at their
own request,' were its voters; in Massachusetts 'every male inhabitant of
twenty-one years of age and upwards, having a freehold estate within the
commonwealth of the annual income of three pounds, or any estate of the value
of sixty pounds;' in Rhode Island 'such as are admitted free of the company and
society' of the colony; in Connecticut such persons as had 'maturity in years,
quiet and peaceable behavior, a civil conversation, and forty shillings freehold
or forty pounds personal estate,' if so certified by the selectmen; in New York
'every male inhabitant of full age who shall have personally resided within one
of the counties of the State for six months immediately preceding the day of
election . . . if during the time aforesaid he shall have been a freeholder,
possessing a freehold of the value of twenty pounds within the county, or have
rented a tenement therein of the yearly value of forty shillings, and been rated
and actually paid taxes to the State;' in New Jersey 'all inhabitants . . . of full
age who are worth fifty pounds, proclamation-money, clear estate in the same,
and have resided in the county in which they claim a vote for twelve months
immediately preceding the election;' in Pennsylvania 'every freeman of the age
of twenty-one years, having resided in the State two years next before the
election, and within that time paid a State or county tax which shall have been
assessed at least six months before the election;' in Delaware and Virginia 'as
exercised by law at present;' in Maryland 'all freemen above twenty-one years
of age having a freehold of fifty acres of land in the county in which they offer
to vote and residing therein, and all freemen having property in the State above
the value of thirty pounds current money, and having resided in the county in
which they offer to vote one whole year next preceding the election;' in North
Carolina, for senators, 'all freemen of the age of twenty-one years who have
been inhabitants of any one county within the State twelve months immediately
preceding the day of election, and possessed of a freehold within the same
county of fifty acres of land for six months next before and at the day of
election,' and for members of the house of commons 'all freemen of the age of
twenty-one years who have been inhabitants in any one county within the State
twelve months immediately preceding the day of any election, and shall have
paid public taxes;' in South Carolina 'every free white man of the age of twentyone years, being a citizen of the State and having resided therein two years
previous to the day of election, and who hath a freehold of fifty acres of land,

or a town lot of which he hath been legally seized and possessed at least six
months before such election, or (not having such freehold or town lot), hath
been a resident within the election district in which he offers to give his vote
six months before said election, and hath paid a tax the preceding year of three
shillings sterling towards the support of the government;' and in Georgia such
'citizens and inhabitants of the State as shall have attained to the age of twentyone years, and shall have paid tax for the year next preceding the election, and
shall have resided six months within the county.'
22

In this condition of the law in respect to suffrage in the several States it cannot
for a moment be doubted that if it had been intended to make all citizens of the
United States voters, the framers of the Constitution would not have left it to
implication. So important a change in the condition of citizenship as it actually
existed, if intended, would have been expressly declared.

23

But if further proof is necessary to show that no such change was intended, it
can easily be found both in and out of the Constitution. By Article 4, section 2,
it is provided that 'the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges
and immunities of citizens in the several States.' If suffrage is necessarily a part
of citizenship, then the citizens of each State must be entitled to vote in the
several States precisely as their citizens are. This is more than asserting that
they may change their residence and become citizens of the State and thus be
voters. It goes to the extent of insisting that while retaining their original
citizenship they may vote in any State. This, we think, has never been claimed.
And again, by the very terms of the amendment we have been considering (the
fourteenth), 'Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States
according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in
each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any
election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the
United States, representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of
a State, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male
inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age and citizens of the
United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in the rebellion,
or other crimes, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the
proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole
number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.' Why this, if it
was not in the power of the legislature to deny the right of suffrage to some
male inhabitants? And if suffrage was necessarily one of the absolute rights of
citizenship, why confine the operation of the limitation to male inhabitants?
Women and children are, as we have seen, 'persons.' They are counted in the
enumeration upon which the apportionment is to be made, but if they were
necessarily voters because of their citizenship unless clearly excluded, why

inflict the penalty for the exclusion of males alone? Clearly, no such form of
words would have been selected to express the idea here indicated if suffrage
was the absolute right of all citizens.
24

And still again, after the adoption of the fourteenth amendment, it was deemed
necessary to adopt a fifteenth, as follows: 'The right of citizens of the United
States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, or by any
State, on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.' The
fourteenth amendment had already provided that no State should make or
enforce any law which should abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens
of the United States. If suffrage was one of these privileges or immunities, why
amend the Constitution to prevent its being denied on account of race, &c.?
Nothing is more evident than that the greater must include the less, and if all
were already protected why go through with the form of amending the
Constitution to protect a part?

25

It is true that the United States guarantees to every State a republican form of
government.18 It is also true that no State can pass a bill of attainder, 19 and that
no person can be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of
law.20 All these several provisions of the Constitution must be construed in
connection with the other parts of the instrument, and in the light of the
surrounding circumstances.

26

The guaranty is of a republican form of government. No particular government


is designated as republican, neither is the exact form to be guaranteed, in any
manner especially designated. Here, as in other parts of the instrument, we are
compelled to resort elsewhere to ascertain what was intended.

27

The guaranty necessarily implies a duty on the part of the States themselves to
provide such a government. All the States had governments when the
Constitution was adopted. In all the people participated to some extent, through
their representatives elected in the manner specially provided. These
governments the Constitution did not change. They were accepted precisely as
they were, and it is, therefore, to be presumed that they were such as it was the
duty of the States to provide. Thus we have unmistakable evidence of what was
republican in form, within the meaning of that term as employed in the
Constitution. As has been seen, all the citizens of the States were not invested
with the right of suffrage. In all, save perhaps New Jersey, this right was only
bestowed upon men and not upon all of them. Under these circumstances it is
certainly now too late to contend that a government is not republican, within the
meaning of this guaranty in the Constitution, because women are not made
voters.

28

The same may be said of the other provisions just quoted. Women were
excluded from suffrage in nearly all the States by the express provision of their
constitutions and laws. If that had been equivalent to a bill of attainder,
certainly its abrogation would not have been left to implication. Nothing less
than express language would have been employed to effect so radical a change.
So also of the amendment which declares that no person shall be deprived of
life, liberty, or property without due process of law, adopted as it was as early
as 1791. If suffrage was intended to be included within its obligations, language
better adapted to express that intent would most certainly have been employed.
The right of suffrage, when granted, will be protected. He who has it can only
be deprived of it by due process of law, but in order to claim protection he must
first show that he has the right.

29

But we have already sufficiently considered the proof found upon the inside of
the Constitution. That upon the outside is equally effective.

30

The Constitution was submitted to the States for adoption in 1787, and was
ratified by nine States in 1788, and finally by the thirteen original States in
1790. Vermont was the first new State admitted to the Union, and it came in
under a constitution which conferred the right of suffrage only upon men of the
full age of twenty-one years, having resided in the State for the space of one
whole year next before the election, and who were of quiet and peaceable
behavior. This was in 1791. The next year, 1792, Kentucky followed with a
constitution confining the right of suffrage to free male citizens of the age of
twenty-one years who had resided in the State two years or in the county in
which they offered to vote one year next before the election. Then followed
Tennessee, in 1796, with voters of freemen of the age of twenty-one years and
upwards, possessing a freehold in the county wherein they may vote, and being
inhabitants of the State or freemen being inhabitants of any one county in the
State six months immediately preceding the day of election. But we need not
particularize further. No new State has ever been admitted to the Union which
has conferred the right of suffrage upon women, and this has never been
considered a valid objection to her admission. On the contrary, as is claimed in
the argument, the right of suffrage was withdrawn from women as early as 1807
in the State of New Jersey, without any attempt to obtain the interference of the
United States to prevent it. Since then the governments of the insurgent States
have been reorganized under a requirement that before their representatives
could be admitted to seats in Congress they must have adopted new
constitutions, republican in form. In no one of these constitutions was suffrage
conferred upon women, and yet the States have all been restored to their
original position as States in the Union.

31

Besides this, citizenship has not in all cases been made a condition precedent to
the enjoyment of the right of suffrage. Thus, in Missouri, persons of foreign
birth, who have declared their intention to become citizens of the United States,
may under certain circumstances vote. The same provision is to be found in the
constitutions of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas,
Minnesota, and Texas.

32

Certainly, if the courts can consider any question settled, this is one. For nearly
ninety years the people have acted upon the idea that the Constitution, when it
conferred citizenship, did not necessarily confer the right of suffrage. If uniform
practice long continued can settle the construction of so important an
instrument as the Constitution of the United States confessedly is, most
certainly it has been done here. Our province is to decide what the law is, not to
declare what it should be.

33

We have given this case the careful consideration its importance demands. If
the law is wrong, it ought to be changed; but the power for that is not with us.
The arguments addressed to us bearing upon such a view of the subject may
perhaps be sufficient to induce those having the power, to make the alteration,
but they ought not to be permitted to influence our judgment in determining the
present rights of the parties now litigating before us. No argument as to
woman's need of suffrage can be considered. We can only act upon her rights as
they exist. It is not for us to look at the hardship of withholding. Our duty is at
an end if we find it is within the power of a State to withhold.

34

Being unanimously of the opinion that the Constitution of the United States
does not confer the right of suffrage upon any one, and that the constitutions
and laws of the several States which commit that important trust to men alone
are not necessarily void, we

35

AFFIRM THE JUDGMENT.

See other sections, infra, p. 174.

Article 2, 18.

Preamble, 1 Stat. at Large, 10.

Declaration of Independence, Ib. 1.

Articles of Confederation, 3, 1 Stat. at Large, 4.


Article 2, 1.

6
7

Article 1, 8.

1 Stat. at Large, 103.

10 Id. 604.

10

2 Id. 293.

11

10 Stat. at Large, 604.

12

5 Stat. at Large, 455, 10.

13

12 Id. 392.

14

Constitution, Article 1, 2.

15

Ib. Article 1, 3.

16

Ib. Article 2, 2.

17

Ib. Article 1, 4.

18

Constitution, Article 4, 4.

19

Ib. Article 1, 10.

20

Ib. Amendment 5.